“Alone” is a competition reality TV show centered on wilderness survival, which has been airing on History Channel since 2015. While it has been widely compared to other similar shows, such as “Survivor” and “Man vs. Wild”, “Alone” takes things up a notch by putting contestants to survive in the wilderness completely on their own, equipped with nothing but a set of ten basic tools and a handheld camera to document their journey. The last person who stays out in the competition is acclaimed The Victor, and walks away with a grand prize of $500,000.
With the exception of weekly medical check-ups, the participants are completely deprived of human contact for the entirety of competition. In the past eight seasons, we’ve followed over 80 contestants coming from a variety of backgrounds, trying to survive in the uninhabited regions of Vancouver Island in Canada, Patagonia in Argentina, and even in the Arctic Belt.
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Is “Alone” scripted?
Aside from its unique setup, “Alone” prides itself on being one of the most authentic reality TV series currently airing. As revealed by the series’ executive producer, Shawn Witt, the participants produce thousands of hours of self-shot footage, which takes months of screening and a team of more than 25 people just to go through, before post-production begins. ‘Even though some are convinced this show is fake or staged… I can assure everyone that it couldn’t be more authentic. We pride ourselves in providing each participant with the most unobstructed opportunity to test their survival skills, isolated, in a wild environment – while also taking the necessary safety precautions.’, Shawn wrote in an article published on the Cynopsis website.
The team make sure that each contestant is truly isolated, both from the outside world, and from other competitors.
Despite the harsh environment, they aren’t provided with additional food, water or tools, however, they do have a satellite phone through which they may contact the rescue crew in case they want to tap out of the competition; of course if they chose to do that, they are no longer in the race for the win.
To provide additional safety, the contestants go through weekly medical check-ups to assure that they are able to continue the adventure. Once they pass the 45-day milestone, the check-ups happen more frequently – every three to four days.
Deaths and medical emergencies
Luckily, nobody who’s competed in “Alone” has lost their life, although there have been cases of very dangerous environmental and medical threats which made some of them tap out of the competition, or be pulled out by the production team over safety concerns.
The first person to leave the show was the former law enforcement officer, Josh Chavez, who called to be rescued after only 12 hours spent in the wilderness, as his shelter had been completely surrounded by black bears.
As the third season moved to Patagonia, the extreme weather conditions combined with a lack of food proved to be very dangerous for contestants’ health, and marked the first time a contestant was pulled for medical concerns. It was Dave Nessia, who faced a near-death scenario as his systolic pressure came dangerously close to his diastolic pressure (80/60 mmHg), putting him at a huge risk of organ failure. His condition was caused by lack of food – as reported, his body had been in starvation mode for more than 30 days, since he had only been eating half a dried fish every other day. The win was claimed on day 87, after the runner-up, Carleigh Fairchild, was pulled out because her BMI (Body Mass Index) reached a low point of only 16.8 (a healthy person has a BMI of 19-25), indicating that she had become severely underweight.
When she was told about having to leave, Carleigh immediately started crying. ‘I felt myself getting thinner’, she said in an interview she gave after the competition, but called her narrow defeat disappointing, since she claimed to have felt healthy at the time. The winner himself, Zachary Fowler, had also lost a significant amount of weight – 70lbs (32kgs), which made up more than a third of his starting weight.
Since then, 16 more contestants have been medically evacuated, for reasons ranging from physical injuries, food poisoning and constipation to having a dangerously low BMI index. A particularly controversial exit happened in season eight, when 48-year-old Tim Madsen seemed to be having severe heart issues, which caused him to be medically evacuated on day six. It hasn’t been confirmed whether he actually had a heart attack, or if it was just a false alarm, but the evacuation was necessary either way.
As it turns out, Tim had a history of cardio-vascular issues prior to competing on “Alone”, which would make it nearly impossible for him to survive for a long time under extreme conditions of the show. This sparked a discussion among the fans about what the barriers of entry should be. ‘Sure he went in there with the best intentions, but someone with his medical history should never be allowed to be on the show. Makes you think that since this happened in both season 6 and 7, it’s a deliberate decision by the producers to generate some drama, with a guaranteed early exit’, one Reddit user wrote.
Another common problem the participants face is declining mental health, caused by social isolation. People are considered to be ‘social animals’, so being away from practically everyone for an extended period of time could cause a huge issue even if everything else is seemingly going well. In fact, one of the most common reasons why contestants choose to tap out is to return home to see their family.
Larry Roberts, the runner up of season two, was hit particularly hard by mental health issues; he chose to tap out on his 64th day on Vancouver Island, after he had a mental breakdown. Him return home wasn’t the end of his struggles, as he was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by prolonged isolation and severe hunger he experienced. ‘He was really quiet when he came home and had a melancholy aura around him. He was trying to integrate back into society. I think it was tough on him coming in second place’, his wife Brannan said. Despite this negative experience, Larry still accepted the invite to participate in an ‘All Stars’ season of the show, which took place in Mongolia in 2018. He said that he just wanted to enjoy the experience the second time around; he came in third place, tapping out at day 41 to again return to his family.
Behind the scenes secrets
As for the casting, there certainly isn’t a lack of participants to choose from. As revealed by the producer Shawn Witt, each year History Channel receives around 5,000 video submissions from people who want to be on the show. Of those people, a team of casting directors chooses a group of 20 potential candidates, all of whom have shown that they possess the skills necessary for survival. They are then invited to attend an extensive bootcamp in upstate New York, during which they are evaluated by a group of third-party professionals who make a final selection. Interestingly, the people who applied for season one had no idea that there would be a cash prize, especially not as big as $500,000, yet there were still a lot of people interested in competing in “Alone”, just to test their wilderness survival skills.
Another factor that has to be carefully selected for each season is the filming location. An ideal environment for the series to take place must be uninhabited, but have enough land to support 10 participants, while assuring that they would be far enough apart to never run into each other, and it also needs to have all the resources necessary for survival, such as access to water, plant and animal life. Furthermore, it’s necessary to assure that nothing that the participants do for survival is against the local law, which means that they should be allowed to set open fires, and hunt and fish for food in the chosen location. For a long time, the History Channel team wanted to film “Alone” in the wilderness of Transylvania, however, unfortunately it doesn’t have enough land for competitors to truly stay isolated.
Spin-offs and similar shows
Over the course of eight seasons, the producers of “Alive” have experimented with the show’s format quite a bit. The first season featured a cast of 10 male contestants, before women were introduced into the format in season two, and as they proved to be just as resilient as their male counterparts, every season since then has featured a mixed cast.
In season four, originally entitled “Alone: Lost & Found”, instead of 10 solo competitors, we saw a larger cast of 14 people, who competed in teams of two. The season started with half of the participants being dropped off in the traditional manner, while their pairs, who were dropped off about 10 miles away, having to find them with the use of a compass and bearing. The prize was still $500,000, which was spilt between the winning pair, while the rules were altered to fit the format. If one contestant taps out, the pair is immediately disqualified. The winning team were brothers Jim and Ted Baird, from Toronto, Canada, who survived for 75 days.
In a similar manner to other competition reality shows, the following season branded as “Alone: Redemption”, reintroduced participants from seasons one through four, who were given another shot at winning. The season three runner-up, Carleigh Fairchild was a surprise first elimination, being evacuated for a medical emergency after only five days, while the winner was the season one runner-up, Sam Larson.
The producers switched up the format completely for season seven, dubbed “Alone: Million Dollar Challenge”, which introduced a new winning condition – surviving for at least 100 days for a prize of $1 million; there was a possibility of multiple winners, or no winners at all. Roland Welker from Red Devil, Alaska ended up being the only contestant who lasted all 100 days in the wilderness of the Northwest Territories of Canada, and simultaneously became the record holder for the most consecutive days on the show.
Due to the popularity of “Alone”, there are also two international spin-offs from the series. The first was the Danish version, which has been airing on DR3 for five seasons, since 2017. In the same year, Norway introduced their own version of the show, which sadly hasn’t been as successful, running for only one season.
In 2022, following the success of “Alone” on Australian streaming platforms, the Australian network SBS announced the upcoming local spin-off from the original series, set to air in 2023.
“Alone” is not the only reality TV show centered on wilderness survival. It’s often been compared to “Survivor”, which is considered to be the blueprint of the genre. However, unlike “Alone”, the contestants of “Survivor” are not isolated from each other, and the social aspect of the game often plays a bigger role in the story than pure survival skills.
Another series with a similar format is Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid”. Each episode follows two survivalists, a man and a woman, who meet naked at a remote location for the first time, and are given the task of surviving for 21 days. While they have the advantage of working in pairs and having to survive for ‘only’ 21 days, compared to “Alone”, the participants of “Naked and Afraid” are much more limited in their starting toolset, as they are only allowed to pick one item; however, the show has been subject to criticism over the lack of authenticity.
As of March 2022, “Alone” is yet to be officially renewed for another season, but since applications for the show are open on the History Channel website, it’s safe to assume that the team is already working on season nine, which should premiere in late 2022 to early 2023.